Well I got to take my brother and his twin daughters (my nieces) with me to Alaska on the Oosterdam on 08/04-08/11. First time I've sailed with anyone who is not my wife.
We quickly agreed the 3 of them would get the corner Neptune Suite and I would take the Interior across the hall (having my own cabin was a trade-off for missing the Neptune Lounge and PG breakfast.
It was their first cruise and they absolutely fell in love with everything about it, they were in a Suite after all enjoying the high life, we ate every meal in the MDR and the food quality was above average, my brother couldn't believe he could get Rack of Lamb one night, and then Lamb Shank the next. My nieces are vegetarian/vegan and after the first night they got to pre-order the next night's meal off the Veterinarian Menu the have copies of in the MDR if you ask.
Our dining room stewards where wonderful and one of them made Origami animals for my 13 year old nieces every night, our cabin stewards where also excellent, too me the things that still stand out for me with HAL is the service and the food quality. I know many are upset with the diminishing choices in the MDR, but on Gala nights it is still a 4 course meal and on other nights your can always order 2 starters and you entree.
The Lido was fine but always busy, It was a completely sold out cruise with many newbies so having patience for your fellow cruisers in the Lido was indeed needed.
My nieces didn't find their Teen/Tween cohorts until the 4th night of the cruise, my mistake sort of. On embarkation day I took them to Club Hal and it had 2 doors one listed for 6-12 year- olds and one listed for 6 and under. They are 13. We didn't put 2 and 2 together and realize The Loft is for Teen and Tweens not Club HAL, they could have meet their age-group fellow cruisers much sooner, but uncle kind of dropped the ball. They still had 3 nights/days together with a really well behaved and adventures group of 13-17 year olds.
All of the shore excursions where fine and whale watching in Juneau was great, they even got to see their first breach. And a whole bunch of flipper waves from a mama whale with 2 calf's. It was alarming warm all over South East Alaska that week and Seas where exceptionally calm. From Seattle you go on the outside of Vancouver Island for a 7 day RT, because you have to book it top speed 21-22 knots to get there and back in 7 days.
79 degrees and not a cloud in the sky in Juneau, Mendenhall Glacier is fading fast and expected to reced 800 ft this year instead of the usual 400 ft. Hubbard Glacier was grand and is still a spectacle to behold for the first time or 3rd time in my case.
Now for my observations, conclusions from a 4 star perspective. The Oosterdam staff and crew seem to still really enjoy their work, the food is still good. I really miss having music in the Ocean Bar, why is there a piano there at all if it never gets played? The Music walk is fine for what it is but sometimes I just want to grab my book find a comfy chair have a few drinks and listen to someone play piano or the old Neptune's jazz trio from days gone by.
I appreciate the musicianship in BB King's but I was solo and didn't want to go there by myself, I just was never in the mood for classical at Lincoln Center stage and neither of the dueling piano guys in Billboard had a signing voice. No really I heard them try to sing, while I was spending way too much time in the Casino each night.
Also, the bartender in the Seaview Bar at night was great, made me feel really welcomed and appreciated and was impressed that I was a Bourbon and Scotch drinker, he didn't say so but I think he gets tired of serving Bud Light all day and night (Yes that's an elitist comment).
We will keep sailing with HAL, we still really like the service and feel of the ships, plus the 4 star Mariner benefit of laundry is too good to pass-up. I know a lot of HAL loyalist chagrin all the changes, cut-backs and economizing, or monetizing of everything. I don't like them either. But we have tried Celebrity, Cunard, Princess, RCI and well there really just don't feel as nas nice to us as the HAL experience. I guess we could give Celebrity another try or Oceania since they send us a brochure every week, but we still get a home away from home feeling from HAL.
Thanks for reading this far,